One family owned center in the San Fernando Valley is approaching drug and alcohol addiction with an unvarnished, affordable and familial approach that is resonating with experts in the field. Monsters and Critics toured the facility in January, 2015.
The rehab racket is alive and well, with numerous facilities bilking the insurance companies and state funded medical programs out of millions, and glaringly so in Malibu, in the so called “Rehab Riviera” where the owners of these “centers” appear to want to be as famous as the celebrities they troll and who offer no real hard evidence to back up claims made in slick commercials that sell the exclusivity of their facilities.
Not all rehabilitation centers are as thin on delivery and thick on false promises. There’s a place in a sleepy suburb of the San Fernando Valley that should be recognized as the gold standard of addiction treatment – without the sky-high prices of others. It’s a cozy no-frills program that doesn’t kowtow to the Malibu norm.
The Discovery House goes above and beyond what the State of California legally requires of rehab facilities and provides evidenced-based, 12-step complimentary programs in a familial and cozy residential setting. The Discovery House boasts a Joint Commission Accredited status, the highest accreditation obtainable (less than 6% of all rehab facilities can claim this) and they exceed all state mandated regulations for individualized as well as group therapy sessions.
Unlike the costly “Malibooze Centers” that garner the most press because of their wickedly infamous clientele, The Discovery House is a more modest yet tastefully appointed, comfortable facility. The residential center is actually three separate remodeled homes that have a connecting courtyard to form a private environment that fits the cozy and quiet neighborhood-y surroundings.
But what really differentiates this place from other centers is the quality of care offered at a markedly lower cost. Unpretentious and thorough, their treatment programs are not harried, understaffed or disorganized like an overburdened state facility or exorbitant like a Malibu seaside palace.
Every member of the staff is integrated into the daily life of the client (they are not called patients here) and are seriously invested in their well-being with a level of service that is unparalleled in the industry. This facility consistently keeps a 3:1 ratio of counselors/coaches to clients.
The owners, Tom and McKay Whiting, are both addicts in recovery who met 12 years ago. Together they have created an oasis of calm healing that is affordable, approachable and covered by insurance. Their goal is to nurture their clients from detox to sobriety, then to a confident and secure “graduation” and a flourishing and successful life.
Some residents who successfully complete residential treatment at The Discovery House have moved on to one of the several transitional living locations in the area. They call this the continuum of care.
Tom and McKay believe that clients’ success lies not only in receiving expert hands-on treatment in their licensed residential program, but also remaining engaged in recovery once residential treatment ends, transitioning to homes which can provide continued support but in a less-rigorous environment. The Discovery House helps residents who successfully complete residential treatment do just that: clients are encouraged to move on to one of several transitional living locations in the area where they can continue to live in a supportive environment, but with greater independence.
In this manner, clients who successfully complete residential treatment at The Discovery House continue with their recovery by engaging in treatment at an out-patient program of their choice, while living in homes that provide encouragement, hope and support. Pets (some restrictions) are welcome at the transitional living facilities and there is a four-legged staff ambassador named Molly who greats everyone who enters.
Tom Whiting’s architectural and construction background have come in handy, with extensive forethought in the design of The Discovery House, from the living space flow to the color palettes that promote a sense of quiet rejuvenation and calmness. Tom and McKay met about 12 years ago but it was Tom’s black Labrador dog that sealed the deal for his soon- to- be- dog- loving wife, McKay. They have devoted their careers since meeting to assembling a sober house ideal based on their first-hand knowledge of what works, starting with building the best physical structure to house clients and a team of counselors to help their clients get well. Many of The Discovery House’s clients come from out of state where centers are not as comprehensive – or effective in their strategy, and they also work with a number of veterans who are recovering after suffering from PTSD.
The price tag for quality treatment in a comfortable atmosphere with a 3 to 1 counselor ratio? About a third of the cost of the most expensive rehab centers just a canyon away.
A drug rehabilitation facility should only take a client who wants to be there and who recognizes that there’s a problem, not just to appease a spouse or a boss. “Using” substances is often closely associated with ingrained rituals for the addicted person. The trappings and setting of abusive usage are often almost as important as the drug/alcohol use itself. Some ritualized behavior is emotionally based; for example, a drug or alcohol abuser may purposefully work themselves into a state of anxiety (or anger) so that there is a reason to use. Good rehab will offer an addict a chance to step away from this negative repetitive pattern that was fueling their using habits and learn to rebuild positive behavioral patterns.
For The Discovery House, clients must first be cleared in a medically supervised initial detox period (done at an outside medical facility) and be evaluated by Dr. Walter Thomas, their medical consultant. Dr. Thomas is one of first 50 certified doctors who passed the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) test. About half of all addicts and alcoholics also have a psychological disorder, the most common being depression. Because The Discovery House’s focus of treatment is for addiction, not serious mental illness, clients who are found to have more serious mental disorders, such as a drug-induced psychosis or bi-polar disease, are referred elsewhere.
Once the green light is given, the clients can then begin a step-by-step continuum of care that will build the tools to effectively reintegrate back into normal life, clean and sober. Tom and McKay took me through the beginning, middle and end of a client’s journey with The Discovery House.
Counselors work hard to show alternatives to revolving social activities and something as simple as barbecues around alcohol and drugs. The Discovery House owner Tom says, “Our clients always say that they never felt cared for before coming here.”
The Residential Discovery House program provides a safe setting for men and women in the early stages of recovery. The structured program is designed to address issues that arise as clients unravel the layers of abuse and behaviors that undermine their ability to function. This work, usually done within the first 30 days of treatment, is critical and the most intensive. Once the counselors and the client are comfortable that progress is made, they are ready for a less stringent treatment.
One of the secrets that Tom and McKay shared with me serves as a blueprint for all their counselors. The psychological model “Stages of Change,” drives a mindfulness, sense of self-discovery and active involvement that leads the client into coming up with their own solutions to their problems. It’s similar to effective parenting, when the child solves his or her own problem. But they need the tools to “get there.”
In a nutshell, it begins with pre-contemplation, where the client has absolutely no perceived need to change their behavior. This is what I call the “tough nut to crack” phase, where everything is Jake and there are no problems, just move along…nothing to see here. The precipice of this stage and stage 2 is the ideal time for that person to enter a residential rehab program.
But there are, of course, problems. Enter stage 2, or the contemplation step of the stages of change. The client becomes acutely aware, “hey, maybe I do have a problem; in fact yes I most certainly have a problem. Why didn’t anyone tell me about all these problems?” This is an emotionally volatile period of time for the client and their families.
The skill of the therapy will ease the realization shock into stage 3, aka the preparation stage. This is the beginning of action and the hard work that is done to peel away the defensive layers or denial of the initiating triggers that bear-trapped the client to begin with. This is the beginning of real motivation for the now chemically detoxed client to begin the mental detox.
When stage 4 level begins, this is the axis of all the hard work put in by all the parties. Action speaks louder than words. The client actively is making changes within themselves and addressing the issues head on. Stage 5 is the crucial maintenance stage, not out of the woods yet but the light is blinding. This is where the client sustains and implements all the coping and life-skills they have learned, relearned and absorbed so they almost feel like they can mentor a newcomer.
The last stage is one for the life of anyone addicted the relapse stage. Human nature is what it is, imperfect and fraught with weakness. Sometimes we do take two steps forward and one back, and recovery work is no different. When you understand that failure and relapse are part of the healing process, it takes the shame away and empowers you to try again, and again, and never quit the fight.
This is where The Discovery House bends over backwards to ensure their clients are given a safety net to fall into. Counselors and treatment staff provide support and teach the skills which help their clients prepare for life on their own and hope to cope with the risks of relapse. The Discovery House also helps them locate safe, secure, and sober environments to transition to once they leave residential treatment. In the appropriate setting, anyone who matriculates through The Discovery House can go freely to enjoy and kick back without negative temptations and be surrounded by like-minded people.
Tom tells Monsters and Critics, “Upwards of 80 percent of clients have experienced trauma of some kind in their childhood or earlier life. It’s essential that clients feel that they are in good hands and that they are safe here. Our clients become our family, and they know we’re here to help them, not hurt. We aren’t an impersonal warehouse of a place that loses people in a crush of charts and files.”
The Discovery House unquestionably takes the very real issues of addiction without either extreme of pampering or bullying the addicted person. They make it their mission to get to the root of the problem and from there, all things are possible… and I like it when all things are possible.